SafeRider vans save and strand


Many Pitt students have a love/hate relationship with SafeRider and are able to recount both… Many Pitt students have a love/hate relationship with SafeRider and are able to recount both heartening stories of gallant rescue and nightmarish tales of abandonment and confusion.

SafeRider is a shuttle service provided by the University and funded by students’ transportation fees that students can call for a ride back to campus if they find themselves in an unsafe situation late at night. Students receive 20 free rides per semester.

SafeRider has helped thousands of students get out of bad situations, but there are many who have been left stranded.

“After an hour of freezing our asses off, we realized the [city] bus wasn’t going to come, so we called SafeRider, since there were five of us and we couldn’t take a cab,” junior Beth Epling wrote in the “SafeRider’s a Bitch” Facebook group. “They told us that they would not come and get us, and if they did, they would send letters to our parents and revoke all riding privileges, so we told them we would just walk. We walked from the South Side to Towers at 1 a.m.”

SafeRider does not usually pick students up in some popular areas – such as the South Side – which are just outside of its boundaries. Students are traditionally asked to walk back within SafeRider’s boundaries, where they could then be picked up.

Student Government Board president Shady Henien thinks that part of the problem is a lack of empathy from SafeRider’s phone operators, who are outsourced.

“These people don’t really have a vested interest in us. The operators, they’re not faculty, they’re not students,” Henien said.

“SafeRider has to understand that when students are calling, they can’t expect us to walk in an unsafe area to another place – which could be even more dangerous for us – or to go wait back inside the house, which depending where you are, could not be the safest thing, which is the reason you’re calling.”

Kent McGaughey, Pitt’s manager of transportation and travel, said that no major changes to SafeRider are planned for the near future.

“We’re pretty much at capacity right now, serving as many people as we can, based on budgets and things like that,” McGaughey said.

Despite the continuing issues, Henien remains optimistic about possible improvements.

“No, nothing has been changed,” Henien said. “They’re working towards it. At least they’re listening to our concerns, that’s a big step. With time, it’s definitely going to be achieved.”

The power to make changes lies within the transportation committee – which consists of students, faculty and staff – whom Henien meets with about three times per semester.

SafeRider always has two operators on duty, dispatching two shuttles on the streets, with additional reinforcements during times of high volume. While system upgrades are currently in the works, only six callers can wait on hold at one time.

While he would not comment on whether or not SafeRider’s budget was high enough – nor could he say what exactly SafeRider’s budget is – McGaughey said that SafeRider has to be picky about which students it serves.

“We’re always looking to become more efficient and serve the students as best we can,” McGaughey said. “We want to get the people who need that ride, not just the ones who want it.”

While SafeRider has received scrutiny and criticism from students, Henien said that the blame should go both ways.

“I think what the problem is, [is] that students think SafeRider is a party taxi, and that’s not the purpose of it.

The purpose of it is to take you from an unsafe situation to a safe location,” Henien said.

McGaughey agreed with Henien’s comments.

“I’m sure SafeRider is used for more purposes than just for safety, and that becomes evident when rides triple on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”

Henien said that he will ask the transportation committee to listen to tapes of student calls to SafeRider to determine where the blame truly lies.

“We’re going to review the audio tapes and see if this is the students’ fault or the operators’ fault, and we’ll take it from there,” Henien said. “If it’s the operators’ fault, then we’re going to have to do something about these operators. But students have to understand that it’s not a party taxi.

“SafeRider was founded to help the students, and over the years people have abused it, and that’s the reason why we’re receiving such horrible feedback from both parties,” Henien said. “But that’s not an excuse. The SGB and I will work to correct that and bring it back to how it was at the beginning.”